Thursday, December 20, 2012

McMullen To RIT

The Smokies have announced their third NCAA Division I scholarship of the season, with this afternoon's commitment from captain Garrett McMullen to his hometown Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers. Each member of Trail's dynamic top line now have college commitments under their belts, and McMullen also becomes the second Smoke Eater to commit to RIT in the past two years (with blueliner Rajan Sidhu currently enjoying his freshman season in New York state).

The full release from the team is available here.

McMullen's rise with the Smoke Eaters is similar to that enjoyed by another recently-committed skater in Brent Baltus. He arrived in Trail in October of 2011 from Powell River and developed into one of the Smokies' most consistent offensive threats as the season wore on, scoring 17 goals and 36 points in a Trail uniform. Head coach Bill Birks named him captain this past August, and his game hit another level from then on.

The 20 year-old shot out of the gate like a cannon, and sits behind only Baltus in team scoring with 31 points (15 of which are goals). Maybe more importantly is McMullen's knack of scoring big goals for this team. So far, he has four game-winners (most recently on a tip-in Tuesday against Merritt), two of which have come in overtime (at Prince George and at Vernon).

It's clear as well that as McMullen goes, so go the Smokies. Trail has won only twice this year when McMullen has been held off the scoresheet (one of those wins coming in overtime, the other when McMullen was a scratch with the flu). On and off the ice, he's a role model for the younger skaters on the team, and a terrific ambassador for the organization. I can imagine he and his family will be even more excited that the next four years of his hockey future will be played in his home city of Rochester.

Congrats "Mully" on the terrific achievement!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Smoke Eaters 4 Centennials 2

Garrett McMullen's deflection early in the third period proved to be the game-winner as the Smokies closed out 2012 with a physical 4-2 win over Merritt Tuesday at Cominco Arena.

The captain deflected a wrist shot through Merritt goaltender Russell Sanderson's legs for his fifteenth goal of the season to help the Smokies finish the pre-holiday portion of the schedule with an emphatic victory in front of the home faithful.

Trail started out of the blocks with a bang, scoring only 21 seconds into the first period when a point shot was saved by Sanderson, but the rebound caromed off the end boards to an open Riley McDougall, who potted his second goal in as many games.

The Calgary product scored the only goal of a physical first period, with the Smokies playing their most aggressive period of hockey in recent memory, forechecking well and delivering hard body-checks all over the ice.

Trail would take a 2-0 lead just shy of the 12-minute mark of the second period, when Jake Lucchini pounced on a rebound in the left-wing circle and roofed a shot on Sanderson for his fourth goal of the season. The Centennials would reply just over three minutes later, when after a Trail power-play had expired Merritt found themselves on a 3-on-1 rush with only forward Tyler Berkholtz back to defend. A pass from Brent Fletcher across to defenseman Tyler Martin found the back of the net on Smokies starter Lyndon Stanwood.

McMullen's goal would restore the two-goal lead 1:33 into the third, after Austin Adduono wristed a puck toward Sanderson. The Cents would again reply quickly as Martin floated a long shot through the Trail netminder for his second goal of the game. The Centennials came on offensively as the game went on (outshooting Trail 37-32 overall), but Stanwood was strong, with his best saves coming in the latter half of the game.

Adam Wheeldon added some insurance for the Smokies with just less than five minutes left in the period, converting on a rebound for his fourth goal and eleventh point, both new BCHL career-highs.

Trail lost forward Mitch Foyle early in the third period after a heavy check from Centennials defenseman Dylan Chanter, but the 16 year-old returned to the dressing room suffering only from bruising after taking time to recollect himself after a thunderous hit in the neutral zone.

Tonight was easily one of, if not the most complete effort from the Smokies this year, and perhaps a statement game ahead of a long layoff for some weary bodies. It was one of the most physical games (and for the most part clean) that I've seen in some time of watching BCHL hockey, and it's safe to say the Smoke Eaters more than held their own in that department tonight too. With two-thirds of the top line missing from the lineup (Scott Davidson joined Brent Baltus on the sidelines Tuesday) and four other regulars missing through injury, the Smoke Eaters kept things simple, and effective in collecting their tenth home victory of the year. Affiliates Riley Brandt (Beaver Valley) and Jamie Vlanich (Castlegar) were extremely effective in the offensive zone all night, creating several grade-A chances. With such a long layoff (Trail doesn't play again until January 4th), it was important for the Smokies not only to secure two valuable points, but to enter the break on a positive note.

My Three Stars:
1. Adam Wheeldon, Trail
2. Tyler Martin, Merritt
3. Garrett McMullen, Trail

Up Next: The Smokies are idle until Friday, January 4th when they host the Surrey Eagles. 11 of Trail's final 19 games are on home ice, including 7 of the last 9.

Editor's Note: With such a long layoff, things will be getting awfully quiet on the blog for the next couple of weeks. Like the players, I'm heading out of town as well for some family and quiet time. All the best to the fellas, staff, billets, parents, and you, the readers over the holidays and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year too!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Centennials

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Merritt Centennials
When: December 18, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smoke Eaters close out the 2012 portion of this season’s schedule with another big Interior division matchup against the Merritt Centennials. Two days after a disappointing home loss against Nanaimo, Trail will surely be cognisant of the fact that nothing less than a full sixty-minute effort will get the job done tonight, and that a win over the Centennials would allow the club to end the year on a positive note ahead of a near three-week break between games.

Riley McDougall scored the lone goal for the Smokies Sunday. It was the Calgary product’s first tally since returning to Trail. McDougall and fellow forward Connor Collett (who were teammates two seasons ago with AJHL Okotoks) have started to show chemistry and zip on a line with Adam Wheeldon, a combination that may well have been Trail’s best line on Sunday. Tonight will again require scoring by committee, but the Smokies will have to work against a stingy Merritt club that has conceded the second-fewest goals in the BCHL.

Last Meeting: Merritt has won all four meetings between the two clubs during this regular season, most recently a 3-1 decision November 10th in the Nicola Valley. Trail’s last win against the Cents came in November of 2011 on a game-winner from Marley Keca.

Our Opponent: Only Cowichan Valley has played fewer games (28) than Merritt’s 29 entering play tonight, but the surprising Centennials find themselves 3 points clear of West Kelowna for second in the Interior division. Shifty playmaker Regan Soquila leads the team with 30 points (21 of which are assists), while ex-Chilliwack sniper Derek Huisman is the only Merritt skater with more than nine goals (11). The Cents are built from the goal outward, with Tyler Steel not only carrying the load between the pipes, but doing so with a 2.67 GAA and .910 save percentage. Merritt’s defense has size; watch in particular super 17 year-olds Dylan Chanter (UNH commit) and former Smokies AP Dane Birks. The son of Trail’s head coach was named in the most recent NHL Central Scouting rankings for the 2013 Entry Draft.

In the Press Box: Defensemen Braeden Jones and Shane Poulsen, forwards Brent Baltus, Jesse Knowler and goaltender Adam Todd remain out for Trail. The Centennials do not have any listed injuries.

Broadcast Info: Tonight's show on FAST Hockey pay-per-view and Trail Smoke Eaters Ustream begins at 7:20, with play-by-play set for 7:30.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Clippers 4 Smoke Eaters 1

On an orange and black afternoon, it was the visiting Nanaimo Clippers who came away victorious thanks to three second-period goals at Cominco Arena Sunday.

After a first period that saw the home team enjoy an edge in play, the wheels fell off the Smoke Eaters' bus in period two as Nanaimo won its' third straight contest in Trail.

After a comeback fell just short Saturday against Vernon, the Smokies came barrelling out of the gate Sunday, forcing turnovers and creating offensive chances, most notably a shot off the cross-bar midway through the frame from captain Garrett McMullen. A late power-play for Trail may well have woken up the Clippers, whose penalty-kill not only scored, but forced the issue against a poorly-polished Smoke Eater power-play all over the ice.

The Clippers broke onto the scoreboard while short-handed early in the second period. With leading goal-scorer Kyle Kramer in the box for a high-sticking double-minor, forward Brendan Taylor whipped a hard pass from the corner that was redirected in by veteran Greg Fraser. The Clippers' fourth line added to the lead at the 11:38 mark of period two after a centring feed from behind the goalline made its way to AP forward (and former Smokies affiliate) Tanner Burns, who potted his first BCHL goal on his Clippers debut.

Austin Dick rattled home a power-play slapper later in the frame from the right point for his first BCHL marker to extend Nanaimo's lead to 3-0 at the intermission.

Again, the Smoke Eaters started the third period playing desperate hockey, and were rewarded early when Riley McDougall lifted his own rebound over an outstretched Jayson Argue for his first goal since re-joining the Smokies last month. But despite strong Trail pressure, the physical Clippers were able to prevent any further chipping away of their lead, and a Fraser empty-net goal at the final buzzer sealed the Smoke Eaters' fate.

Argue collected his 13th victory of the season, while affiliate goaltender Jordan Gluck looked very strong in his BCHL debut, making 30 saves. Trail's injury woes were exacerbated early in the second period when forward Scott Davidson took a hard hit well away from the play and was forced to leave the game.

My Three Stars:
1. Greg Fraser, Nanaimo
2. Austin Dick, Nanaimo
3. Connor Collett, Trail

Up Next: The Smokies close out 2012 Tuesday night with a home date against the Merritt Centennials (7:30, Cominco Arena). Bring a non-perishable food item to the rink and be entered to win an autographed Smokies jersey!

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Clippers

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Nanaimo Clippers
When: December 16, 3:00 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

A day after another comeback attempt fell just short, the Smokies go back to work against a Nanaimo squad that goes in search of its first win on a three-game weekend away swing. Trail dug a 4-goal hole by the 7-minute mark of last night’s second period, and came perilously close to forcing overtime against Vernon. Tyler Berkholtz, Mitch Foyle and Luke Sandler scored for the Smokies, who outshot the Vipers 35-21.

Today’s game with Nanaimo is Trail’s seventh contest of the month of December, with the Smokies having scored the first goal only once. Last night’s loss could, and should serve as a lesson that the ability to score goals exists despite the absence of Nanaimo product Brent Baltus, who remains out of the lineup this afternoon.

Lyndon Stanwood, who made 17 saves in last night’s 4-3 loss, is expected to make way to Castlegar Rebels goaltender Jordan Gluck between the pipes. The 20 year-old from Scarsdale, NY has posted a 10-4 record with two shutouts in the KIJHL this season, but has yet to test his mettle at the BCHL level.

Last Meeting: Today marks the first meeting between these teams since a 5-0 Nanaimo win in Trail on December 17th, 2011.

Our Opponent: Nanaimo head coach/general manager Mike Vandekamp has built a veteran-laden squad as part of the run to the inaugural Western Canada Cup, which the Clippers are hosting this upcoming spring. The roster remains three players short of the 22-man maximum, meaning more additions could be on the way after the holiday break. Former Prince George Cougar Greg Fraser and 18 year-old import Michael McNicholas are co-scoring leaders with 31 points, with fourth-year Clipper Kyle Kramer leading the club in goals with 16. Nanaimo lost games in Chilliwack (3-0 ) Friday and Penticton (5-2) Saturday despite outshooting their opponents in both contests. Goaltender Jayson Argue, acquired from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League over the summer, has carried the load in the net for the Clippers (12-13, 3.24, .899).  The Clippers are 3-7 in their last ten games, only Cowichan Valley and Langley have worse records over that stretch.

In the Press Box: Defensemen Braeden Jones and Shane Poulsen, forwards Baltus, Jesse Knowler and goaltender Adam Todd remain out for Trail. The Clippers are without backup goaltender (and former Kootenay Ice major midget) Jarrod Schamerhorn.

Broadcast Info: Watch today's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pre-game coverage begins at 2:50 with the play-by-play set for 3:00.

Vipers 4 Smoke Eaters 3

A four-goal deficit proved too much to overcome as the Smoke Eaters dropped a 4-3 decision to the Vernon Vipers Saturday at Cominco Arena.

Adam Tambellini's second goal of the game early in the second period proved to be the difference as a Trail rally fell just short, and the Smoke Eaters' 4-game win streak came to an end.

The Vipers started their attack early in the first period, when Liam Board pounced on a loose puck in the low slot, wristing a shot over an outstretched Lyndon Stanwood just shy of the 5-minute mark. The Vipers added to their lead later in the opening frame when Tambellini redirected a Marc Hetnik centring feed for his 20th goal of the season.

Vernon made it 3-0 early in period two, just as Smoke Eaters defenseman Bennett Hambrook was stepping back on the ice after serving a penalty. Braedan Russell snapped a quick shot from the right circle that eluded Stanwood. The Vipers would make it a four-goal advantage thanks to a fortuitous bounce to Tambellini, who was alone in front of Stanwood after a Bryce Eviston shot rattled off a Trail defender's shinpad.

The Smoke Eaters needed a spark desperately, and found one 8:08 into the second period when Tyler Berkholtz's wrist shot from the left-wing circle fooled Vipers goaltender Austin Smith. Mitch Foyle banged home a power-play rebound in the final minute of the period to cut the deficit to 4-2 and give the home side some life.

Trail poured everything it could on the Vernon net (outshooting the visitors 35-21 overall), and struck a third time midway through the third period on a nifty deflection from Luke Sandler. The 19 year-old redirected a Djordje Leposavic point shot for his 15th goal of the season, and 6th in the month of December.

It was as close, though, as Trail would come, despite golden opportunities in close on Smith in the dying moments, including a cross-crease pass in the final seconds that hopped at the worst possible time, and stayed away from Smoke Eater sticks, and away from the Viper net. Vernon's early goals proved to be too much to handle as the Vipers snapped a four-game skid of their own, and moved to within two points of Trail for the fourth seed in the Interior division.

My Three Stars:
1. Adam Tambellini, Vernon
2. Tyler Berkholtz, Trail
3. Andrew Tegeler, Vernon

Up Next: The Smokies get little to no time to dwell on tonight's loss, with a visit from the Nanaimo Clippers set for Sunday afternoon. Puck drop at Cominco Arena is at 3:00 pm.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Vipers

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Vernon Vipers
When: December 15, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

The Smokies go for a fifth straight win and a third consecutive victory against Vernon as the Vipers pay their final visit to Cominco Arena tonight. Nine nights ago, the Smoke Eaters found overtime magic thanks to Garrett McMullen for a 2-1 win at Wesbild Centre,  a triumph that marked the first time in Smokies franchise history that Trail has won twice in Vernon during the same regular season.

Tonight, the Smokies come to play on the heels of more overtime heroics. Connor Collett took advantage of a miscue from West Kelowna goaltender Tyler Briggs 39 seconds into 3-on-3 play to give Trail their seventh overtime win of the season. Luke Sandler added two goals while Lyndon Stanwood stopped 41 shots as Trail moved into sole possession of fourth in the Interior division. It was a characted win for the Smokies, who allowed three leads to lapse but once again showed their prowess in extra time. With three home games scheduled over the next four days, Trail will rely on a supportive home crowd to help keep the recent string of success alive.

Last Meeting: McMullen’s OT winner helped Trail to a 2-1 victory December 6th at Wesbild. Brent Baltus had the other Trail goal while Adam Tambellini scored for Vernon. The two teams will meet only once more during the regular season after tonight’s game: January 9th in Vernon.

Our Opponent: The Vipers come into tonight’s game in very unfamiliar territory: last in the Interior division. Penticton handed Vernon a 3-1 loss in the North Okanagan last night, and the Vipers come into play this evening three points behind 5th place Salmon Arm. Tambellini’s 19 goals (and 36 points) are tops on the squad, while the shutdown defensive pairing of Ryan Renz and Brett Corkey have combined for a perhaps-surprising 34 points from the back end. Watch out as well for NHL Entry Draft-eligible forward Dexter Dancs, who was recently acquired from Penticton. Expect Austin Smith to get the start in goal for Vernon, the ex-Swift Current Bronco has appeared in 26 games and despite an 8-17 record holds a very respectable 2.67 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

In the Press Box: Defensemen Braeden Jones and Shane Poulsen, forwards Baltus, Jesse Knowler and goaltender Adam Todd remain out for Trail. Vernon are minus Craig Martin while forward T.J. Dumonceaux did not dress last night.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Smoke Eaters 4 Warriors 3 (OT)

Connor Collett took advantage of a Warriors defensive-zone miscue to stake the Smokies to a 4-3 overtime win Friday in West Kelowna.

Warriors goaltender Tyler Briggs misplayed the puck and fell while well out of his crease, allowing Braden Pears to feed Collett alone in the slot for his 7th goal of the year, as Trail won in overtime for the 7th time this season.

The Smokies took the lead 15 minutes in on a sharp wrister from Luke Sandler. The Illinois import took a centring feed from affiliate callup J.J. Beitel and snapped a quick shot over Briggs' shoulder.

The Warriors would answer back 24 seconds later when after a brilliant stop by Lyndon Stanwood off Max French, Seb Lloyd lifted the puck over the outstretched goaltender's pads for his 15th goal, which sent teddy bears raining to the ice.

Sandler would score on another long-range wrister in the opening minute of period two, before Brent Lashuk tied the game again on a power-play deflection. Beitel would restore Trail's one-goal lead before the break on a seeing-eye wrister through traffic.

The Warriors came out guns a-blazing in the third, and found an equalizer on another power-play goal from Jetlan Houcher. West Kelowna pressed, firing 13 of their 44 shots at Stanwood but the Trail goaltender stood tall, stopping 41 shots and collecting his 12th win of the season.

Collett's OT winner was the 3rd consecutive double-overtime goal for Trail, who moved to within 2 points of the 3rd place Warriors with the win. Stanwood was again strong in goal, as the Smokies also took a 3-2 season series lead on West Kelowna. Losses by Salmon Arm and Vernon see the Smoke Eaters reclaim sole possession of fourth in the Interior as well.

My Three Stars:
1. Luke Sandler, Trail
2. Max French, West Kelowna
3. Connor Collett, Trail

Up Next: The Smokies return home to continue their busy weekend Saturday against Vernon, before a Sunday home matinee versus Nanaimo. Tomorrow's game begins at 7:30.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Warriors

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ West Kelowna Warriors
When: Dec. 14, 7:00 pm
Where: Royal LePage Place, West Kelowna

The pre-holiday portion of the Smoke Eaters' 2012-13 schedule closes with a bang as Trail kicks off a four-game in five-night stretch tonight in West Kelowna. The Smokies already lead the league in games played, and will have played an incredible 37 times by Christmas.

Tonight, the task is simple, win in a building that has not been kind at all. In four meetings with the Warriors, Trail has mustered two victories (both on home ice) by a combined score of 6-3. In West Kelowna, it's a much different story. Trail has been outscored 15-2 in two losses, and have not picked up points at Royal Lepage Place since a 3-2 overtime win November 6th, 2011.

There is reason for optimism, and real concern in camp Smoke Eater, though. Captain Garrett McMullen is the reigning BCHL Player of the Week, defenseman Braden Pears earned himself an honourable mention and is enjoying a career year with 19 points on the Smokies' back end, and by hook or by crook, this club has managed to pull off some of the most improbable wins already this season that I've seen in 25+ years of watching and covering hockey. The likely absence of 21-goal man Brent Baltus as he recovers from an upper body injury is reason for concern, although fellow overager Tyler Berkholtz provides a reliable, steady centreman that can allow the speedy McMullen to shift to wing on Trail's top line.

Points are crucial every night, but with a win this evening the Smokies could climb to within one point of the third-place Warriors, who are struggling with injury concerns of their own (see below). Two points tonight would be massive for the psyche of this team.

Last Meeting: The Warriors scored early and often in a 6-0 win October 5th at Royal Lepage Place. Tyler Briggs made 20 saves to collect the shutout.

Our Opponent: West Kelowna remain a mystery. On some nights they're capable of putting up massive numbers, but injuries and a lack of consistency has put the Warriors in a dogfight with Merritt for second place. Despite being only 4 games over the .500 mark, West K have a goal differential of +21, which speaks to the explosiveness of their offence. Marcus Basara (35 points) is top dog in the Warriors' attack, but 18 year-old Seb Lloyd (14-18-32) is enjoying a breakout season in his second year in West Kelowna. Briggs (10-8-1, 2.31, .923) anchors a defense that is one of only five in the BCHL (Penticton, Merritt, Chilliwack and Surrey the others) to concede fewer than 80 goals this season.

In the Press Box: Goaltender Adam Todd, defensemen Braeden Jones and Shane Poulsen, and forwards Baltus and Jesse Knowler are out. Fellow forward Bryce Knapp is questionable. According to Jon Zacks, the Warriors are without forwards David Pope, Brett McKinnon and Ambrose Firkus. Goaltender Steve Myland is with the WHL's Swift Current Broncos.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on Fast Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pre-game coverage begins at 6:50, with the play-by-play at 7:00.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

McMullen Player of the Week; Pears Earns Honourable Mention

The BCHL announced Tuesday that Smokies captain Garrett McMullen has been named this week's Gongshow Gear Player of the Week, after a 3-goal, 2-first star performance that included more overtime magic last Thursday in Vernon.

The full release from the league is here, the team has more here.

After missing Sunday's win in Chilliwack with the flu, McMullen was back with a vengeance on both nights. He set up Brent Baltus' game-tying goal in Thursday's second period in Vernon before scoring the OT winner, then added a pair of goals (missing out by inches on a hat-trick on a third-period penalty shot) in Trail's come-from-behind victory against Langley Friday. All of a sudden, the captain sits 14th in BCHL scoring with 30 points, and is only 3 goals shy of the 17 he put up last season.

Defenseman Braden Pears is one of five BCHLers granted an honourable mention this week. The 19 year-old set up McMullen's winner Thursday then scored the overtime goal against the Rivermen with a picture-perfect snapper from the right wing. Speaking of all of a sudden, Pears now sits 7th among BCHL defensemen in scoring with 19 points and is riding a five-game point streak, all in the wake of seeing even more minutes than usual thanks to a rash of injuries on the back end.

Pears and McMullen each have two overtime goals to their credit this season too, helping the Smokies to a 6-1 overall record in extra time.

McMullen is the first Smoke Eater to be named Player of the Week since Erik Cooper this past January.

Way to go Garrett and Braden!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Smoke Eaters 6 Rivermen 5 (OT)

Braden Pears played overtime hero, snapping a wrister home from the right circle 44 seconds into 3-on-3 overtime as the "Cardiac Kids" pulled off another stunner, 6-5 over the Langley Rivermen Friday at Cominco Arena.

Pears' second OT winner of the season capped another wild rally for Trail, who erased 3-0, 4-2 and 5-4 deficits to shock Langley and extend the Smokies' winning streak to three games.

The Rivermen came out of the gate extremely well, hitting and generating scoring chances, and would take the lead on a power-play just shy of the 14-minute mark when Mark Whiteley's seeing-eye point shot found the back of the net through traffic.

Mario Puskarich roofed a snapper 2 and a half minutes later to give the visitors a 2-0 lead at the intermission, before Evan Campbell (who recorded four points on the night) fired home a power-play marker 45 seconds into period two to extend the lead to 3-0.

Trail needed a spark, particularly after losing leading scorer Brent Baltus to a late open-ice check from Turner Popoff less than four minutes into the game (Popoff and Adam Wheeldon would be tossed minutes later after a spirited scrap). The Smokies found that spark in the form of Garrett McMullen, who converted a centring feed from November Player of the Month Tyler Berkholtz at 3:32 of the middle frame to put the home team on the board.

Trail would close the gap to 3-2 minutes later when Bennett Hambrook intercepted a breakout pass and skimmed a shot along the ice for his first goal of the season (and first as a Smoke Eater).

Campbell would prove his worth again before the second intermission, cutting to the goalline and roofing his second goal of the night to give Langley a 4-2 lead.

Coming into Friday's game, the Smokies had won five times this season when trailing after 40 minutes, and the comeback was back on in full force less than two minutes into the third when Scott Davidson snapped a puck home from the right side. McMullen would add his second of the game just before the 8-minute mark to bring the Smokies level, but Langley's Trevor Cope would restore the Rivermen lead just over a minute later on a wraparound.

But again, the Smokies would not go quietly. Luke Sandler banged home a rebound while losing his balance at the side of the net to tie the game at 5-5, then moments later McMullen was hauled down on a breakaway prompting the Smoke Eaters' second penalty shot in five games. The captain shot blocker side but Rivermen goaltender James Barr got just enough of the puck to keep it out.

Langley had their chances to win, including a pair of sitters in overtime from Puskarich and Campbell, but Trail goaltender Lyndon Stanwood made stops when he needed to, turning aside 32 Rivermen shots to record his 11th victory of the season.

Pears was rewarded for his offensive enthusiasm with a goal that brought the Rivermen bench to its knees, and for the second night in a row, sent Trail's players into a state of jubilation as the Smokies collected their sixth extra-time victory of the season.

It was a game the Smoke Eaters needed to have, and despite a considerable lack of polish on both sides, it was a game the Smoke Eaters got, in the end. With Vernon's loss Friday, the Smokies move (for the time being) into sole possession of fourth place in the Interior, and run their home record to 9-4 with three home fixtures (Vernon, Nanaimo, Merritt) still remaining before the holiday break.

My Three Stars:
1. Garrett McMullen, Trail
2. Evan Campbell, Langley
3. Tyler Berkholtz, Trail

Up Next: The Smokies will enjoy some R&R before a four-game in five-night stretch to close 2012 that begins next Friday in West Kelowna. Goodness knows the team could use the time between games to cure some bumps and bruises that have accumulated over a busy three months.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters vs. Rivermen

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters vs. Langley Rivermen
When: December 7, 7:30 PM
Where: Cominco Arena, Trail

A night after more overtime magic in the North Okanagan, the Smoke Eaters return home for the first time in two weeks to face a club they haven’t seen in almost a full calendar year. Garrett McMullen played hero last night, converting off a smart pass from Braden Pears 13 seconds into 3-on-3 extra time to lift Trail over Vernon 2-1. It was the Smokies’ 5th overtime win this season, and McMullen’s second OT goal.

Tonight, Trail will try for a third consecutive win against a Langley club that has the second fewest away victories (2) in the BCHL this season. It also marks the first chance for Smokies blueliner Valik Chichkin to face his old mates; he was acquired in late October for Tanner Clarkson, who was released by Langley last week after scoring only once in eight appearances.

This evening’s game also marks the beginning of a stretch of six contests that sees Trail play at home five times. If the Smokies are to keep in the Interior division race (they enter play tonight tied with Vernon for fourth with 27 points), it’s imperative they keep finding success at home. with 15 of the final 24 regular-season games slated for Cominco Arena, home ice might well become an advantage down the line.

Last Meeting: The Rivermen eked out a 5-4 win way back on January 29th at the Langley Events Centre. These two sides will meet again in Langley in late January of 2013.

Our Opponent: Langley have made several changes in recent weeks, including the signing of Castlegar defenseman Tanner Johnson at the December 1st deadline. The 17 year-old collected his first BCHL point last weekend. The Rivermen’s top five scorers are all committed to college, including 35-point man Mario Puskarich (Vermont) and Austin Azurdia (UConn), whose buzzer-beater early in the season was the talk of the hockey world for more than a week. Captain Thomas Nitsche (Colgate) anchors a big back end. 19 year-old James Barr has gotten the bulk of the work in goal ahead of Darren Hogg, who was a member of the Nelson Leafs two seasons ago.

In the Press Box: Defensemen Braeden Jones and Shane Poulsen, forward Bryce Knapp and goaltender Adam Todd remain out, while forward Jesse Knowler is questionable. Langley blueliner Aaron Dolby will miss out tonight.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pregame coverage begins at 7:20 with the opening faceoff set for 7:30.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Smoke Eaters 2 Vipers 1 (OT)

Garrett McMullen's goal 13 seconds into 3-on-3 OT sealed a second straight comeback victory for Trail in Vernon, as the Smokies nipped the Vipers 2-1.

McMullen and linemate Brent Baltus each had 2 points as Trail collected its 5th overtime victory of the season.

The Vipers struck first 9:32 into the first period, when Adam Tambellini lifted a rebound past an outstretched Lyndon Stanwood for his 18th goal of the season.

Trail replied early in the second while short-handed, when McMullen forced Vernon defenseman Ryan Renz into a turnover, then fed out front to Baltus who one-timed his BCHL-best 21st goal past goaltender Austin Smith.

Baltus' goal would round out the regulation-time scoresheet, though both teams had chances aplenty to break the deadlock.

Stanwood made the save of the game late in period two off Colton Sparrow, who deflected a point shot on goal, then grabbed his own rebound and tried to outwait the Trail netminder, who stoned him on the backhand.

McMullen, Baltus and Austin Adduono all enjoyed point-blank chances in the third, while Tambellini struck iron from the right face-off circle with 25 seconds remaining in the period.

Trail grew more confident as the game wore on, and made quick work of a game-winner in double overtime. After receiving a pass from Baltus, Braden Pears strode down the right wing, firing a pass to a wide-open McMullen in the slot. The captain made no mistake, slotting home his 12th goal of the season.

KIJHL affiliates Hunter Jenerou (Castlegar) and Stefan Wood (Kamloops) performed well on the back end in their BCHL debuts, while BV forward Riley Brandt caused a ruckus in the offensive zone on a fourth line with Jake Lucchini and Mitch Foyle.

Stanwood made 35 saves to collect the win.

My 3 Stars:
1. Garrett McMullen, Trail
2. Lyndon Stanwood, Trail
3. Austin Smith, Vernon

Up Next: the Smokies return home to host the Langley Rivermen tomorrow. Game time is 7:30.

Roster Moves: the Smokies suspended forward Ryan Edwards Thursday after he left the team without permission after yesterday's practice. From my vantage point, the 19 year-old was just starting to come in to his own and developing great rapport on-ice with the likes of Adam Wheeldon and Connor Collett, and was playing a similar role to the one assigned Brent Baltus last season. Why he chose to leave isn't my business, but only a handful of weeks after telling me in an interview that it was "a lifelong dream of his" to wear the Smoke Eater uniform, it comes as a shock, and a disappointment. I wish him nothing but the best of luck in the future, and there's no question that whoever gains his services (be it the Nitehawks or otherwise) are better for it.

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Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Vipers

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Vernon Vipers
When: Dec. 6, 7:00 pm
Where: Wesbild Centre, Vernon

It seems like we've only just gotten home from the coast, but the Smokies are back on the road today for a crucial Interior matchup in Vernon. Sunday's 6-3 win in Chilliwack has ebbed the stream of panic that flowed freely after a rough night in Coquitlam Saturday, as Trail goes in search of its second consecutive win at Wesbild Centre against a Vipers squad that has done some tinkering over the last week.

Luke Sandler broke out of a mini-slump Sunday with a hat-trick including a stellar solo effort on a breakaway early in the third period. In the absence of captain Garrett McMullen, the Smokies needed someone to step up and take charge offensively and Sandler did just that, upping his goal total to 11 on the season while sniper Brent Baltus quietly became the first player in the BCHL to hit 20 on the year.

Even though last weekend's flu bug is surely a thing of the past, injuries remain a very real concern for this club and I'd expect affiliates to draw in both tonight and tomorrow. I thought Matt Carr (Fernie KIJHL) in particular was terrific last weekend and has been every time Trail has come calling. The 18 year-old keeps his game simple and steady, and plays with enough of a physical edge to be able to adjust quickly to the increase in pace brought on by junior "A" forwards.

No question Trail will need to put in a full 60-minute effort tonight against a Vernon club that can explode offensively. The Vipers have put up a 7 and a 9 against the Smoke Eaters this season and will be just as interested in securing the fourth seed in the Interior as tonight's visitors will be in taking it away. It sounds cliche, but a good start by this club is crucial. The Smokies have surrendered 100 goals on the road this season, 34 of those coming in the first period compared to only 14 goals for. We've seen several times this season (including Sunday) that this club has the ability to come back from early deficits, but playing "catch-up" won't work every night.

Last Meeting: The Vipers started early and scored often in a 9-2 romp at Cominco Arena on November 3rd. Both teams have won twice in the seven-game season series with one game each in Trail and Vernon to follow tonight's contest.

Our Opponent: The Vipers have made several changes since these two clubs last met, most recently a trade with Penticton that sees power forward Jedd Soleway head south in exchange for Michigan commit (and last year's KIJHL rookie of the year) Dexter Dancs. Forwards Landon Robin and Mitch Van Teeling have moved on, while former UMass forward Andrew Tegeler also arrived in Vernon this week. This comes on the heels of the departure of highly touted recruit Kevin Guiltinan to Prince George two weeks ago. The Vipers' top line is one of the best in the league, no question, with 17-goal man Adam Tambellini leading the charge. The shutdown pairing of Ryan Renz and Brett Corkey is physical and limits opposing forwards' space; watch for them to draw against the Smokies' top line tonight.

In the Press Box: Trail are without defensemen Braeden Jones and Shane Poulsen, goaltender Adam Todd and forward Bryce Knapp. Fellow forward Jesse Knowler is a question mark. Trail product Craig Martin is out of the lineup for the Vipers as he nurses a broken ankle.

Broadcast Info: Watch tonight's game on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. Pregame coverage begins at 6:50 with the puck drop from Vernon set for 7:00.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Smoke Eaters 6 Chiefs 3

Luke Sandler potted a hat-trick, and Brent Baltus scored twice to reach 20 goals this season as the Smokies roared back from an early deficit to stun the Chiefs 6-3 in Chilliwack.

A night after a 7-1 shelling in Coquitlam, and without captain Garrett McMullen, Trail showed poise and offensive flair, handing the Chiefs their first home loss since late September.

Chilliwack started strong, going ahead on an Austin Plevy rebound just past the seven-minute mark to send teddy bears raining down on the Prospera Centre ice. The Chiefs would take a 2-0 lead before the break after Ben Israel's point shot deflected off Adam Wheeldon's stick, off the end glass then back out front onto the stick of BCHL scoring leader Luke Esposito.

Trail came storming out of the gate in the second. First, Sandler picked Chiefs goalie Josh Halpenny's pocket behind the net, feeding the puck out front to Wheeldon who tapped in his third goal of the year. Baltus would get into the act less than a minute later, scoring on a rebound off a Braden Pears point shot.

Sandler would add a third later in the period, sliding a rebound beneath an outstretched Halpenny as Trail fired 19 shots on goal in the middle frame.

The one-goal lead exploded into a 6-2 advantage by the four-minute mark of the third. First, Sandler intercepted a pass at his own blue line, then sped around the Chiefs defence to score his tenth of the season on a breakaway.

Baltus would fire home his second of the game before Sandler completed his hat-trick with a laser beam from above the left-wing circle that found the top corner.

Garrett Forster would round out the scoring on a two-on-one in the final minute.

Lyndon Stanwood collected his first win in goal since November 9th, making 33 saves as Trail snapped a five-game losing streak.

The victory, Trail's fourth this season away from Cominco Arena, also matched last season's road win total. With injuries, the flu, and a third game in as many days throwing obstacles at the team, tonight's showing proved the value of hard work and determination as the Smokies never quit even despite falling behind early. Trail now moves to within a point of both Salmon Arm and Vernon with a date with the Vipers slated for Thursday.

My Three Stars:
1. Luke Sandler, Trail
2. Brent Baltus, Trail
3. Braden Pears, Trail

Up Next: the Smokies travel to Vernon to face the Vipers Thursday. Game time is 7 pm at Wesbild Centre.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
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Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Chiefs

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Chilliwack Chiefs
When: Dec. 2, 5:00 pm
Where: Prospera Centre, Chilliwack

Two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum meet tonight in the Fraser Valley. The Smokies go for their first win in six, while the Chiefs will try to ride the momentum of two shutout wins over Prince George Thursday and Friday.

Trail were behind the 8-ball off the opening faceoff last night in Coquitlam, and despite injuries and fatigue, need to be better. Passes weren't connecting, the Express' aggressiveness was too much to handle, and Daniel Urbani looked poised to collect his second shutout against the Smokies this year until Braden Pears scored on a late power-play.

Tonight, on another Teddy Bear Toss night, the Smokies will try to salvage some points from a road trip that has not been at all kind thus far. The team should get some reinforcement on the back end, though, as Marley Keca is eligible to return from a three-game suspension today.

Last Meeting: the Chiefs scored 3 times in the first 10 minutes, before a wild Trail rally turned the game into a 5-4 Smokies win one month ago in Trail. This is the final meeting of the regular season between these two clubs.

Our Opponent: The Chiefs are deservedly the top seed in the Coastal Conference entering play today, and are armed with BCHL scoring leader Luke Esposito, whose line with Josh Hansen and Austin Plevy has been arguably the best threesome in the league this season. Chilliwack's defense is big, and moves the puck well, and are more than content to slow the pace of play in the interest of physical assertion. Mitch Gillam posted back-to-back shutouts in PG this week, though it was Josh Halpenny who got the start when these two sides met in Trail last month.

In the Press Box: The Smoke Eaters are without Adam Todd, Braeden Jones, Shane Poulsen, Ryan Edwards, Jesse Knowler and Bryce Knapp. APs Cody Boeckman (G), Chandler Bruyckere and Matt Carr (D) and Colton McCarthy (F) remain with the team.

Broadcast Info: Our pregame show on FAST Hockey and Smokies Ustream begins at 4:50 with puck drop set for 5. Watch this space for links closer to game time.

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Express 7 Smoke Eaters 1

Coquitlam scored early and often, taking advantage of a shell-shocked, tired Smoke Eaters squad in a 7-1 win Saturday at Poirier Sports & Leisure Centre.

Michael Maciag opened the scoring 1:25 in, converting a cross-crease feed from Justin Georgeson to send the Express on their way, and teddy bears from the 700-odd fans in attendance raining from the stands.

Two one-of-a-kind bounces would put the hosts up inside six minutes. First, Philip Zielonka tapped a puck into the open net after a point shot ricocheted off the end dasher. Thirty-five seconds later, Georgeson floated a knuckleball from the high slot that handcuffed, and chased Smokies starter Lyndon Stanwood.

Affiliate backup Cody Boeckman would surrender a fourth goal to Travis Stephens late in the opening frame, and Stanwood would return to start the second.

The middle frame saw only one goal, from Coquitlam captain Mitch Nardi on a rebound, and tempers flared late when Trail defenseman Bennett Hambrook was thrown out for a checking from behind minor that led to a scrap with Express forward Will Cook.

The Smokies would score their lone goal 13 minutes into the third, as Braden Pears fired a slapper past Coquitlam netminder Daniel Urbani on a power-play.

But 25 seconds later, Stephens would pick a Trail defenseman's pocket and roof the puck from the left circle, and Coquitlam's leading scorer John Siemer would round out the scoring late on a rebound after a great individual effort from Zielonka.

The Smokies struggled to gain a foothold Saturday, thanks in part to the early deficit but also due to fatigue and a plethora of missing bodies. Coquitlam smelled blood, and attacked in waves all night, and were full value for the win. With both the Vipers and SilverBacks collecting two points on Saturday, Trail now sits three points from playoff safety with another tough test tomorrow in the Fraser Valley.

My 3 Stars:
1. Philip Zielonka, Coquitlam
2. Travis Stephens, Coquitlam
3. Mitch Nardi, Coquitlam

Up Next: Trail winds down the trip Sunday against the Mainland division leaders in Chilliwack. Game time is 5 pm.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gameday: Smoke Eaters @ Express

Who: Trail Smoke Eaters @ Coquitlam Express
When: December 1, 7:00 pm
Where: Poirier Sports & Leisure Centre, Coquitlam

The Smoke Eaters go in search of the season split against the Express on Teddy Bear Toss night in Coquitlam this evening. Trail will spend most of the day travelling from Powell River before hitting the ice in the Lower Mainland against an Express team that also lost last night, 4-2 to the Surrey Eagles.

The Smokies maybe deserved better in a 4-3 loss to Powell River. Again, the game came down to mistakes (two too-many-men penalties, one bad pinch and a handful of soft defensive zone clearances) and the Kings took advantage. No question Trail will again need to keep things simple in light of a short bench and a talented top six on the opposing side, but this club needs to remind themselves they can skate with any team in the BCHL, and not let recent results bog down team morale.

Garrett McMullen had a strong showing last night in Powell River with a goal and an assist, as his line with Scott Davidson and Brent Baltus combined for 6 points. 8 of the captain's 11 goals this season have come away from home.

It's also crucial for Trail to stay out of the penalty box tonight. The Smokies are 1-12-0-1 on the road when conceding a power-play goal (5-14-0-1 overall). After an early hiccup, the PK unit was good against the Kings, with the likes of Bennett Hambrook and Tyler Berkholtz again sacrificing their bodies with numerous blocks.

Last Meeting: The Express scored inside the opening two minutes, and Daniel Urbani shut the door on the Smokies in a 4-0 win October 12th in Trail. The Smoke Eaters' last visit to Coquitlam was in December of 2010, a 3-2 overtime victory thanks to a Ryan Aynsley winner.

Our Opponent: The Express have had injury troubles themselves this season, and come into play tonight three points back of Prince George for third in the Mainland division. Coquitlam is one of only three teams in the BCHL with a home record (5-7) below the .500 mark. Northern Michigan commit John Siemer (34 points) leads the Express in scoring, he has 6 points in two previous meetings with the Smokies while fellow forward Phil Zielonka has burst onto the BCHL stage with 12 goals in 14 games. Coquitlam shook their blueline up recently, picking up hulking defenseman Brad Ryan from Prince George in exchange for two players; Ryan was named first star on his Express debut too. Cole Huggins' .926 save percentage is nothing to sneeze at either, but the 20 year-old made way for rookie Urbani earlier this season when these two clubs collided at Cominco.

In the Press Box: Trail are without goaltender Adam Todd, defensemen Marley Keca, Braeden Jones and Shane Poulsen, and forwards Ryan Edwards, Jesse Knowler and Bryce Knapp. Keca serves the last of his three-game suspension tonight while Edwards is attending to a personal matter; the rest are injured. AP goaltender Cody Boeckman (KIJHL Nelson) will dress for a second consecutive game, as will defensemen Chandler Bruyckere (VIJHL Oceanside) and Matt Carr (KIJHL Fernie). Coquitlam's only listed injury is to forward Malcolm McKinney, though defensemen Cam Marks, Cal Hofford, and forward Alex Kerfoot all did not dress last night.

Broadcast Info: Tonight's game will be available on FAST Hockey pay-per-view, or listen live at Smokies Ustream. As mentioned on last night's broadcast following a 10-15 minute internet outage during the first intermission and early second period, we may well be switching free audio feeds, but that will not occur until next Thursday's game in Vernon at the earliest. By the way, the show starts at 6:50 tonight with puck drop at 7:00.